Sotomayor--You CAN Say That!:

Given my interest in protecting the First Amendment from overzealous anti-discrimination rules, I was heartened to discover Judge Sotomayor's dissent in Pappas v. Giuliani. As Sotomayor summarized the majority opinion:

The Court holds that the government does not violate the First Amendment when it fires a police department employee for racially inflammatory speech - where the speech consists of mailings in which the employee did not identify himself, let alone connect himself to the police department; where the speech occurred away from the office and on the employee's own time; where the employee's position involved no policymaking authority or public contact; where there is virtually no evidence of workplace disruption resulting directly from the speech; and where it ultimately required the investigatory resources of two police departments to bring the speech to the attention of the community.

I've argued that police departments should be allowed to fire beat cops who publicly engage in racist speech or behavior. But anonymous speech by an employee of the police department's Management Information Systems Division with no evidence of prejudice to the police department's reputation or functioning is a different story. Pappas's views on race relations were simply not relevant to his job qualifications, and firing him therefore violated the First Amendment.

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